Lack of manpower continues to hound the CNMI, just as the Commonwealth has been experiencing renewed economic growth, with Garapan bustling with construction activity and tourists loitering around shops and other restaurants that opened up shop.
Hundreds of foreign workers had to leave the islands this year after being capped out, prompting businesses to either cut their working hours or temporarily close shop as they waited for the documents of their employees to be cleared by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
And with 2019 just two years away, the question remains what would happen to the CNMI once the CNMI-Only Transitional Non-Immigrant Working Visa program ends. CNMI officials had been pushing for an extension and an increase in the numerical limit as they say that there won’t be enough workers to support the businesses that would open in the coming years. (Jon Perez)
Tinian chosen for divert
Tinian would gain economically once the U.S. Air Force begins its operations of Tinian divert activities and other training exercises. The government made sure that no bombing activity would take place during their negotiations with U.S. Department of Defense officials before agreeing to the proposed project.
The DoD and Air Force are finalizing their plans where officials, especially the Tinian leadership, are expecting the military would build additional infrastructure and help improve the airport for the benefit of the island’s community. (Jon Perez)
Skimming at ATM machines
Last April, many people panicked and withdrew their money from banks after several First Hawaiian Bank customers found out that their accounts have been “hacked” by unidentified defrauders.
Based on Saipan Tribune’s interview with some affected customers, the “network withdrawals” allegedly happened in Thailand, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, and other countries.
FHB later issued a fraud alert for Saipan ATM card holders after the bank identified ATMs that were believed to have been involved in the skimming incident that resulted in unauthorized withdrawals. It was the first such incident to happen in the CMMI.
An FHB official said they were not “hacked”; it was an ATM skimming—a method by which defrauders steal card information with the use of technology or equipment, or skimmers, surreptitiously installed on ATMs.
FHB said they found the skimmers and removed them from their ATM machines. FHB then reissued ATM cards for affected customers.
A few days later, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released 10 photos of individuals wanted by the FBI for questioning in connection to the recent electronic thefts from First Hawaiian Bank accounts held by Saipan residents. As of yesterday, the FBI has yet to arrest the individuals in those photos. (Ferdie de la Torre)
Gun control law found unconstitutional
In a landmark decision in March, the CNMI’s gun control law that prohibits residents from obtaining handguns for self-defense purposes was found unconstitutional.
U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona ruled that the ban on handguns and ammunition and their import— contained in the CNMI Weapons Control Act—are unconstitutional and in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 2nd Amendment.
The judge issued the ruling in the lawsuit filed by U.S. Navy veteran David J. Radich and his wife Li-Rong against then-Department of Public Safety commissioner James C. Deleon Guerrero and Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson.
In response, the CNMI government passed Public Law 19-42, which removes the ban on possession of handguns and establishes new rules for transporting and using firearms. Many of those provisions have since been found unconstitutional. (Ferdie de la Torre)
Imperial Pacific International Holdings, the lone casino licensee on Saipan, was thrust into the spotlight after an article on Bloomberg claimed that the U.S. Department of the Treasury is looking into its casino operations. The article questioned the cash flow of the temporary training facility, saying that gambling tables are almost empty.
IPI denied Bloomberg’s report and threatened to sue the international business news agency. They also halted trading at the Hong Kong Stocks Exchange for one day in order to save the company’s shares.
On Tinian, the $75-million fine slapped by the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network has kept investors away from taking over Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino. FinCEN found out last year that Dynasty owner, Hong Kong Entertainment (Overseas) Investors, failed to implement an anti-money laundering program that would have kept the company in compliance with the U.S. Bank Secrecy Act. (Jon Perez)
Submerged lands transferred to CNMI
The official transfer of three out of 200 miles of submerged lands around the islands of Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion has been inching closer and closer to a conclusion
The memorandum of agreement that establishes certain terms and conditions of management of submerged lands was signed on Sept. 22, followed by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ signing of the patent of execution a few months later, on Dec. 22.
Torres thanks Washington Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan for pushing the bill through the federal government. (Erwin Encinares)
Van Gils is NMI Teacher of the Year
Kagman High School’s Gerard Van Gils was selected as the CNMI Teacher of the Year and is set to represent the CNMI later in 2017 along with other state Teachers of the Year across the country.
Popularly known as “Mr. G,” Van Gils was elected out of 21 nominees representing public schools in the CNMI.
Van Gils said he owes it all to the college preparation program called “Million Dollar Scholars,” which he and KHS principal Leila Staffler initiated. The goal of the college program is to raise $1 million in scholarship money to help students go to college. The program ended up raising $2.5 million and sent six KHS students to college. (Erwin Encinares)
Arrest of former DPS commissioner, cop
Authorities arrested in April James C. Deleon Guerrero for allegedly sexually assaulting a then-15-year-old girl while he was DPS commissioner in 2013. His co-defendant, then-police officer Jesse S. Concepcion, was also arrested. The Attorney General’s Investigation Division handled the case.
Both Deleon Guerrero and Concepcion allegedly admitted to an FBI special agent during interview that they had sex with the same girl.
Most of the charges against Deleon Guerrero and Concepcion have already been dismissed without prejudice as no probable cause were found. (Ferdie de la Torre)
The arrest of M/V Luta
Japanese investor Takahisa Yamamoto is suing Lt. Gov. Victor Hocog and the owners/operators of Luta Mermaid LLC, that owns the M/V Luta for allegedly refusing to pay back the $3.4 million that he put up for the vessel. The U.S. Marshal Service seized the vessel. Two companies and crew members of M/V Luta have joined as intervenors in the lawsuit.
Yamamoto requested the court to sell M/V Luta. But Luta Mermaid LLC, M/V Luta, Luta Mermaid LLC president Abelina T. Mendiola, Deron T. Mendiola, and Fidel S. Mendiola III, through counsel William M. Fitzgerald, opposed the sale. (Ferdie de la Torre)
GOP as supermajority
The CNMI conducted another smooth and orderly election last November, which saw the Republic Party candidates dominate the poll. GOPs grabbed 15 of 20 House seats and took two of three Senate seats.
The election was not without drama. Rota Municipal Council chair George Ogo Hocog (Rep) Hocog edged Sen. Paul A. Manglona (Ind) with just six votes, 378-372. Manglona, however, obtained 279 absentee ballots while Hocog got only 100 to clinch the victory, 651-478.
The absentee ballots generally did not affect the results of the earlier tabulation, showing the GOP candidates’ domination of this year’s election. (Ferdie de la Torre)
Ex-CUC employees sue board members
Two former employees of the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. sue CUC board members in November for allegedly holding closed-door meetings under the guise of “executive sessions” and using their positions to obtain private financial gain for themselves and their relatives.
Former CUC public information officer Brad Ruszala and former CUC chief financial officer Matthew Yaquinto, through George Lloyd Hasselback, sued CUC board chair Adelina C. Roberto and board members Eric C. San Nicolas, Joseph T. Torres, Ignacio L. Perez, and Albert A. Taitano for violations of the Open Government Act, Government Ethics Code, and U.S. District for the NMI stipulated order. The case is pending in court. (Michael T. Santos)